Archive for Democracy

Review: GODROADS: Modalities of Conversion in India

Reviewed by: Matthew Wilkinson (UNSW, Sydney)

Discussions of conversion in India generally focus on Christianity, most often imagining conversion to be an unambiguous transition from polytheistic Hindu or animist faiths to the British coloniser’s monotheistic and ‘superior’ faith. This is a narrative that is rife with colonial and social Darwinist undertones, one that endorses a narrow and limiting understanding of conversion as a distinct event. GODROADS: Modalities of Conversion in India challenges these limitations.

Through twelve chapters, 10 of which explore distinct case studies of conversion, GODROADS explores the multifaceted and multidirectional nature of conversion in India. The book offers an alternative script for the Indian conversion experience, one that conceptualises conversion as a heterogenous experience and examines the implications of conversion not just for the individual, but for communities and for greater social structures and processes. Ultimately, GODROADS presents conversion as an ongoing process and not a singular transformational event. This process involves movement in various directions back and forth as converts selectively embrace, resist, and interpret their adoptive religions to suit their own distinct needs and local context.

GODROADS employs roads as a recurring motif to understand the conversion experience and to capture the complexity of the phenomenon of conversion. As Editors Peter Berger and Sarbeswar Sahoo discuss in the Introduction, roads are connected to religion in manifold ways, and not only in the sense that religions offer certain paths to salvation—roads are sites of reflection, a moral geography in relation to which the loss of traditions and moral anomie can be contemplated. In this way, roads are liminal spaces. Berger and Sahoo aptly describe this perspective early on, arguing that ‘like travelling on a road, the process of conversion can be fast or slow, there may be obstacles on the way, a street may turn out to be a dead end, and even if this is not the case, one may decide to turn around and return to where one started (but perhaps revisiting later)’.

The Introduction is followed by 10 empirical chapters each discussing a distinct aspect of conversion in India. These chapters employ various methodologies, from archival historiographies to ethnographic fieldwork, to discuss the multifaceted aspects of the conversion experience. For example, Fernande W. Pool’s Chapter 3, Religious Conversion as Ethical Transformation draws on long-term ethnographic fieldwork to examine reformism in the anthropology of conversion in Joygram, West Bengal, demonstrating that conversion is part of a larger process of social renewal and moral regeneration attached to local ideas of personhood and to the context itself. In Chapter 4, Conversion versus Unity, Frank Heidemann probes archival records of early Badaga conversions on the Nilgiri Hills of south India, demonstrating that the narratives of Christian conversion were informed by a Brahminical view on Hinduism following a master narrative of Brahmin conversion to Christianity. Iliyana Angelova draws on a career of ethnographic fieldwork with the Sumi Naga (one of the major ethnic groups in Nagaland), in Chapter 5, Identity Change and the Construction of Difference, arguing that a combination of utilitarian and intellectual motivation underpins religious transformation among the Sumi, acting simultaneously to encourage a reconstruction of Naga identity as Christian throughout the Naga independence struggle.

Throughout the book’s empirical chapters, an overarching theme of conversion as defined by the individual and attached to myriad local dynamics is made apparent. In Chapter 9, Reservation and Religious Freedom, Saberswar Sahoo unpacks the increasing incidents of Hindu-Christian conflict in Odissa and Rajasthan. Sahoo asks why Christians have been increasingly targeted recently, as compared to the early 20thcentury where Hindu-Christian conflict was very rare. Sahoo argues that rising Hindu-Christian violence is related to changing caste relationships and tensions surrounding freedom of religion. The final empirical chapter, Peter Berger’s Rupture and Resilience, explores the complex overlaps between Gadaba and Hindu religions in Highland Odisha and the ways understandings of deities, the politics of diet, and alcohol consumption intersect in a community hosting a number of conversion events. Berger’s chapter offers an insight into the back-and-forth nature of the conversion experience, and the ways conversion involves selective adoption of old and new religious traditions.

GODROADS empirical chapters are followed by Aoeracuda Vukaca’s Afterword, offering insights into India’s conversion experience from the perspective of an Amazonia specialist and highlighting the ways that conversion is better understood as a complex and ongoing process rather than a moment of rupture and distinct transformation.

Ultimately, GODROADS is faced with the complication of understanding and conceptualising religion in a context of diverse and complex religious traditions, where even the most secular and political processes take on a religious idiom. This makes understanding conversion in India, and in some ways understanding the concept of conversion itself, extremely challenging. Overall, GODROADS responds to this challenge well, offering a thorough discussion and analysis of the conversion experience in India from diverse perspectives while also recognising the localised, subjective and individual nature of the conversion experience. GODROADS offers a valuable addition to literature on religion in India and on the wider conversion experience.

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@ Melbourne Asia Review, Edition 4 (https://melbourneasiareview.edu.au/godroads-modalities-of-conversion-in-india-editors-peter-berger-sarbeswar-sahoo/)

BOOK Review: Pentecostalism and Politics of Conversion in India

Reviewed by: Allan H. Anderson (University of Birmingham)

The author of this book is a sociologist in the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. He is one of an increasing number of fine Asian scholars in the field of the study of Pentecostalism, and in his case, an outsider who is himself Hindu. However, this is a sympathetic and sensitive study on Pentecostalism in Rajasthan, north-west India among “tribals”. These people, considered the original inhabitants of the subcontinent, are referred to in India by the collective term adivasi. The research focussed on the largest of the adivasi, the Bhils, many of whom live in Rajasthan, where the research took place. Intensive Pentecostal work has taken place among Bhils in this state, initiated mainly by missionaries from South India, especially from Kerala. There have not been many studies on Indian Pentecostalism, despite its enormous significance and growth in the past century. This is what makes this particular research so important. What Western scholars of Pentecostalism often do not appreciate is the burgeoning movement within India of Pentecostal preachers, especially from the South, who engage in cross-cultural mission in the North. Their success among tribal peoples has been quite remarkable. They set up theological colleges and other training centres to send hundreds of missionaries out all over India. What is important about this study is that the author identifies probably the most significant sociological reason for conversion of tribal peoples in India: a search for identity and dignity in a society dominated by Hindutva and other forms of Hindu nationalism, and a persisting caste prejudice.

Pentecostalism in India has grown mostly among the poor, especially Dalits (so-called “untouchables”) and tribal peoples. Hindus often consider these groups as people without any religion, but of course this is a false understanding. In Rajasthan, the author identifies Pentecostalism as mostly a “tribal religion” but one that brings converts into modernity. It provides a new identity that gives them dignity, equality and freedom in the face of discrimination, marginalisation and even perceived oppression by a dominant Hinduism. Conversion, he finds, is not as much motivated by social or economic rewards alone as it is by several other complex factors. His fascinating interviews show very different perspectives on conversion by Hindu nationalists, Pentecostal missionaries, Bhil converts and Bhil Hindus. He finds that Bhil people convert, despite serious risks, because of the benefits of spiritual transformation, escape from their traditional shamanism, and hope of a better future. In particular, many convert because of what they perceive as “miracle healing”, and several narratives by interviewees testified to miracles in their lives. This is not to say that there are no real social and economic benefits – on the contrary, the author identifies improvements in family life and social status that come to converts (especially to women), often as secondary benefits. Pentecostals have indeed followed other Christian missionaries in development work by establishing schools, colleges and health centres. One of the longest and most interesting chapters deals with the conversion experiences of Bhil women (the great majority of converts), and another with the causes of anti-Christian violence. There is also a detailed exploration in this book of the concept of conversion to Pentecostalism itself. Does it represent a “complete break with the past”, when in a world of shamanistic and tribal community rituals, and benefits from identifying as “Hindu” adivasi, converts often have to compromise their strict Pentecostal faith and even hide their new identity? The author concludes that in some cases, Bhil Pentecostals had indeed made a complete break, but in others a “hybrid identity” was created.

The author also discusses the increasing anti-Christian violence in India by Hindu nationalists, occasioned by the increasing conversions of Dalits and tribals to Pentecostalism and other evangelical forms of Christianity. He brings in the political dimension of conversion by pointing out that Hindu nationalists see these conversions as disrupting the religious and social order of India, with its corresponding potential to reduce the proportion of Hindus in the country, and thus, political support for the ruling Hindu-nationalist BJP Party. This book provides a multifaceted explanation of the current religious tensions in India and the political implications of conversion to Pentecostal Christianity, and as such is a very useful source of information.

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@ Anderson, A.H. (2019) Asian Studies Review, Vol.44, No.3, pp.556-557.

BOOK REVIEW: Religious Freedom and Mass Conversion in India

Freedom of religion is one of the most controversial issues in India today. Several international bodies and human rights organizations have reported on the declining level of religious freedom in India over the last few years. Considering this, in 2015, during his visit to India, former US President Barack Obama pointed out the strife between Hindus and minorities and urged India to uphold its constitutional commitment to freedom of religion. Most reports have shown that religious freedom in India has declined significantly under the current BJP-led regime, which follows a Hindu majoritarian ideology. It is in this context Laura Jenkins’s Religious Freedom and Mass Conversion in India becomes significant. Drawing on historical and contemporary narratives and case studies of mass conversion movements to Christianity, Buddhism, and Judaism in India during the 1930s, the 1950s, and the present, Jenkins argues that “challenges to converts’ religious freedom are not a recent, BJP invention; rather, they are rooted in these earlier eras, leading to some surprising narrative consistencies across time and religious communities” (23–24). This, however, does not lessen the involvement of Hindu nationalists in flouting India’s religious freedom. In fact, Jenkins specifically notes that “the steady growth of Hindu nationalism means that long-standing narratives about converts have been put into practice through new legislation, litigation, and campaign, menacing religious minorities to an unprecedented degree” (24).

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While Hindu nationalists have argued that aggressive religious conversion by minorities undermines the constitutional principle of religious freedom, the minorities have argued that the Hindu nationalists’ use of violence to threaten and not allow minorities to convert / propagate their religion is a violation of the fundamental right to religious freedom. Given that a large percentage of the converts to minority religions in India are from the poor and marginalized Dalits and Adivasi communities, a major contention has been the question of their agency and sincerity—whether they convert out of “genuine” spiritual transformations or were motivated by material benefits. In this book, Jenkins takes up these two issues—agency and sincerity of the converts—and provides a detailed analysis of the relationship between minorities, majorities, and the state on the one hand and the politics of conversion and religious freedom on the other.

The book is divided into two parts, each having three chapters, and an introduction and conclusion. In the introduction, Jenkins sets the tone for the book by engaging with other scholarship and posing vital questions on agency and sincerity in various conversion movements in late-colonial and contemporary India. In the three chapters in part 1, the book shows how conversion to Christianity (in the 1930s), Buddhism (in the 1950s), and Judaism (in the present) has resulted in socio-economic and political mobility among the converts. Specifically, chapter 1 discusses how Christian missionaries were accused of / criticized for (even by Gandhi) using enticements to convert impoverished communities and how such converts were motivated not by genuine spiritual motives but by material incentives. In this context, American Methodist missionary J. W. Pickett conducted a large-scale survey to understand the motives of conversion. The survey “evidence” clearly established the importance of individual agency and spiritual sincerity in mass conversions. Chapter 2 discusses how mass conversion of B. R. Ambedkar and Dalits to Buddhism in the 1950s provided not just an opportunity to assert their agency against the humiliating caste structure but to establish religious freedom and religious equality. Specifically, conversion to Buddhism made untouchables feel “the equal of every other human being” (71). Jenkins cites Ambedkar’s writings to argue that “the idea of sincerity as ‘pure’ spirituality” (69) is impossible and thus the Ambedkarite Buddhist conversion is an attempt of spiritual and political mobility. In chapter 3, Jenkins discusses the case of the Bnei Menashe community of Mizoram and their conversion to Judaism. While critics have questioned the sincerity of Mizo Jewish conversion, which they believe is being motivated by gaining Israeli citizenship through transnational migration, Jenkins shows how “this spatial mobility actually reinforces rather than undermines the sincerity of the conversion” (99), as the (spatial) migration (aliyah) is itself a religious act.

While in part 1 Jenkins discusses how converts used their agency during conversion and how conversion helped them achieve mobility (social, political, spatial, and spiritual), in part 2 she discusses the structures of immobility (strategies that prevent conversion, such as prosecution, prevention, and persecution). In chapter 4, Jenkins examines the anti-conversion laws, ironically known as the Freedom of Religions Act, which prosecute Christians and Muslims for forcible and induced conversions. The problem is that very often officials ignore the testimony of the converts and question their intention of conversion. In particular, these laws exhibit paternalistic tendencies as they assume that low-caste, tribal, and female populations are easily susceptible to forced conversion. Assuming that these groups cannot decide for themselves, and questioning their agency and sincerity, the officials often make decisions that restrict conversion in the name of protecting religious freedom. Chapter 5 examines the reservation/quota system in India and shows how it prevents Dalits from accessing the quota system if they have converted to Christianity or Islam. Although the reservation system was originally meant for Hindu Dalits, it has subsequently been extended to lower-caste Sikhs and Buddhists, since they are a part of Indic religions; Dalit Muslims and Christians are denied this opportunity because of the fear that it might increase Dalit conversion to these “foreign” religions. As a consequence, Dalit Muslims and Christians cannot exercise both rights together—the right to convert and the right to access; they have to let go of one to exercise the other. In chapter 6, Jenkins discusses love jihad conversion narratives and shows how Muslim men are persecutedfor seducing and converting Hindu women to Islam. Specifically, Jenkins argues that these narratives are not only deeply entrenched in but “exacerbate both Islamophobia and sexism and ultimately restricts religious freedom” (182).

Broadly, Jenkins argues that some of these “masterplots” or “predominant narratives” have been responsible for limiting religious freedom in India, and it is therefore vital that we collect “counternarratives” to defy and refute these “masterplots.” Thus, in the second part of the book, Jenkins cites various counternarratives that corroborate how converts exercised their agency and acted sincerely during conversion. Furthermore, given that both enthusiasts and critics have used the religious freedom argument to either advance or resist conversion, Jenkins argues that mere religious freedom is not enough to protect the minorities; in fact, as we see in the second part of the book, religious freedom was used by authorities to undermine equality. What is therefore vital is the inclusion of religious equality within the concept of religious freedom. Jenkins thus concludes that “we should replace the selective, majoritarian religious freedom so prevalent in the world today with a more equal freedom” (218).

This book makes several important contributions. First, in contrast to studies that call for strengthening religious freedom laws to protect the rights and interests of religious minorities, this book brilliantly shows how religious freedom laws can be used to undermine religious equality. Second, it exposes the majoritarian and paternalistic tendencies of the Indian state and how it denies minorities their constitutional rights. Finally, it shows the importance of counternarratives in decentering “masterplots” and bringing about political transformation. The book is analytically insightful and methodologically innovative and provides a vital contribution to understanding the relationship between religion, the state, and citizenship rights in India.

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@ Sahoo, S. (2020) Asian Ethnology, Vol.79, No.1, pp.186-189 (https://asianethnology.org/articles/2269)

BOOK REVIEW: Pentecostalism and Politics of Conversion in India

Reviewed by: Vikash Singh (Montclair State University)

Sarbeswar Sahoo’s Pentecostalism and Politics of Conversion in India is a well-researched exposition on the divide between religion as a medium of social meanings and relations and the often unscrupulous political conflicts over religious terrain. The book is particularly relevant in a time of rampant politicization of religion in India, if not across the world. It is a study of ‘‘competing projects,’’ as spirit- led Pentecostal Christianity and nationalist Hindu groups jostle with one another for con- version and ‘‘reconversion’’ of the Bhil tribes of central India. Perhaps the story is centuries old, as Christian missionaries aiming to spread the Gospel and save the heathens are met by a variety of local resistances. How- ever, there is a different character as Pentecostals fight to save the last soul before the Messiah may return and because of the unique qualities that have made charismatic Christianity so popular among the deprived and downtrodden across the world. The plot thickens when one adds the opposition: a militant, state-supported Hinduism com- mitted to protecting its ‘‘turf’’ and ideologically moored to Indian nationhood. Sahoo’s book is a story of the twists and turns as these forces jostle for the souls (and the votes!) of the Bhils, one of India’s poorest, largely disenfranchised social groups.

The reasons for the popularity of Pentecostalism among the Bhils, Sahoo shows, are similar to the factors that have made it the rage across the global South: poverty, unemployment, health afflictions, and related psychological and social stress reflected in male alcoholism and chronic marital strain. In the lack of modern education and institutional redressal, magical thinking prevails whereby almost every misfortune—death, sickness, loss of livestock, familial strife—is blamed on evil spirits. The recourse is shamanic rituals requiring the sacrifice of a goat, sheep, chicken, or the like and monetary and material gifts to the shaman (bhopa). The insatiable demands of the bhopas and the expensive and ineffective rituals often leave people very frustrated in their miserable situation but unable to directly question the bhopa for fear of retribution from his spirit world. In these circumstances, the Pentecostal church is a godsend.

The church asks for faith in Jesus and works miracles for the sick and dying with the aid of modern medicines. It asks them to do away with idol worship and the corruptions of the bhopa and his spirit world with no fear of reprisal, since they are under the protection of the Holy Spirit and Jesus. To the people’s surprise, the medical and spiritual help of the priest and the Spirit come for free, quite in contrast with the parasitic ripping off by the bhopa. Furthermore, the church is strict and expects from believers sincere work, good hygiene, clean clothing, and regular prayers, and it disapproves of wasteful expenses and alcoholism. This rigorous expectation that people must change their ways is particularly popular among women, as they are able to bring moral and social pressure on men to stop drinking. Very often, these behavioral reforms lead to a significant change in the well-being of the family. Furthermore, the free English education provided by the Church and the humane and respectful behavior of the priests is a far cry from the tribe’s ostracized status and much-stereotyped treatment by mainstream Hinduism as well as government institutions. Formal Christianization and re-naming, however, come with the risk of losing affirmative action benefits in government jobs and programs, for which the authorities often rely on names to determine tribal status. Therefore, people follow Christian practices without changing their names.

The populist character of Pentecostal congregations—the boisterous emotional display when people habitually get possessed by the Spirit, speak in tongues (here, English), and perform miracles—is akin to the tribe’s traditional animistic rituals. In the process, Hindu and tribal gods alike come to be seen as evil influences. Such upending obviously agitates nationalist Hindu imaginaries. By far the most prominent of these imaginaries is the idea of Hindutva or Hindu-ness, which imagines ‘‘Hindu’’ as an umbrella term that incorporates all religions rooted in the subcontinent. This includes Buddhism, Sikhism, and the many sects of Hinduism, along with rituals and beliefs of the hill people or tribes, but excludes Islam and Christianity definitively as foreign cultures with their holy lands lying in far- off Arabia and Palestine. For almost a century now, Hindutva organizations—such as the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and the political arm, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules the country at this time— have championed the Hindus’ principal claim over Indian territory and nationality. From these perspectives rooted in Cuius regio, eius religio, few things are as offensive as devious Christians converting innocent tribals. Tribal conversion undermines their ideological convictions and threatens to erode their voting base. Since India’s constitution protects the freedom to exercise and propagate one’s religion, the Hindutva groups argue that the missionaries are illegally coercing conversion by providing material incentives. When in power, they have legislated at the state level severe punishment for conversion ‘‘by use of force or allurement or by forcible means’’ (p. 155). The assertions of the Hindutva groups are based on expanding interpretations of the term ‘‘force’’ to include all types of material incentives and facilities.

Conversion is distinguished, however, from ‘‘re-conversion,’’ which allows the Hindutva groups to ‘‘restore’’ the tribals to their ancestral religion or Hinduism. They have set up their own organizations, on the Church model, to prevent conversion and to re-convert, using similar incentives of pro- viding access to modern medicine and routing government programs to the tribes. These organizations actively campaign to discourage conversion, ostracize the converts, and go as far as physically assaulting priests and church volunteers.

One of the strengths of Pentecostalism and Politics of Conversion is its account of the his- tory of Pentecostalism in India. Against the common understanding that Pentecostalism in India came from America, Sahoo agrees with the theory of the polycentric origins of this movement. We learn that Pentecostal- like revivals—particularly in the Khasi Hills in 1900 and Pandita Ramabai’s Mukti Mission in 1901—had happened in India before the Azusa Street revival of 1906, which is usually considered the birth of the movement. The book connects the history and subjective motivations for Pentecostalism among the Bhils of Rajasthan with the surge of the movement in Kerala, and indeed across the world. On the flip side, I found the work somewhat thin in ethnographic reporting. Ethnographic details and the life-worlds of the people get buried under the historical and political details.

In conclusion, Pentecostalism and Politics of Conversion in India is a timely work on the world of contemporary politics of religion in India. This is a world where people’s subjective angst, their precarious material conditions, and the cynical machinations of vote-bank politics make an inextricable and volatile mix. This mix regularly ends up in conflagrations of violence, rioting, and pogroms. The academic here must keep to the task of working toward the just in a thicket of misrepresentations, and Sahoo’s book is an admirable example. This volume will be a useful read for students in Religious Studies, South Asian studies, Anthropology, and of course Sociology.

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@ Singh, Vikash (2019) Contemporary Sociology, Vol.48, No.5, pp.575-576 (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0094306119867060jj)

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Pentecostalism and Politics of Conversion in India

Reviewed By: Vineeth Mathoor (NSS Hindu College, Changanassery, Kottayam, Kerala, India)

This book highlights the politics of Pentecostal conversions and anti-Christian violence in India. Sahoo argues that while Hindu–Muslim conflicts have received wider scholastic examinations and attention, Hindu–Christian violence, especially violence on Christians, has not been analytically examined yet. Focusing on the nature of Hindu–Christian conflicts, this study argues that the absence of proper academic attention to Hindu–Christian conflicts relates to the small-scale and dispersed nature of such conflict. The book locates the history of Pentecostal movements in India in the context of conversion of Dalits and other marginalised sections to Christianity. Violent approaches towards Christianity, it is argued, intensified by the 1980s, and Sahoo identifies the rise of Hindu right-wing groups in the 1980s as the major reason for anti-Christian violence in the country.

The central focus of this study concerns the politics of conversion to Christianity by Bhils in southern Rajasthan. Through extensive fieldwork, the complex interactions between the different actors/agents in the process of conversion are problematised. Sahoo was part of non-governmental organisations working on tribal development in this area, and this NGO experience has helped him gain deeper exposure to the practical aspects of conversions.

The book is divided into six chapters, including the introduction and conclusion. Titled ‘Introduction: Conversion and the Shifting Discourse of Violence’, the first chapter addresses the debates on religious conversion in India in the context of Hindutva politics and establishes a theoretical framework to examine the attempts of Christianisation by organised groups. Chapter 2, ‘Spreading Like Fire: The Growth of Pentecostalism Among Tribals’, examines the rapid increase of Pentecostal Christians in Rajasthan. Their missionaries have concentrated on the lower sections of society since they were more flexible than the upper-caste Rajput Hindus in terms of religious discourses. This means that the Pentecostal strategy here, like in southern India during early colonial times, was to use the poor economic conditions of the tribals to accelerate conversion. The chapter shows how the ‘development activities’ of local missionaries resulted in the conversion of many tribals into the fold of Pentecostal Christianity.

Chapter 3, ‘Taking Refuge in Christ: Four Narratives on Religious Conversion’, deals with one of the most prominent debates of contemporary India, the nature of conversions. Following the rise of the Hindu Right in the 1980s, it has been strenuously argued that tribal and other marginalised sections are converted to Christianity for materials benefits, basically that they are what has been called ‘rice Christians’ of some kind (Doss, 2018). This term is not mentioned in the book, while the role of money and material benefits has been projected by Hindu nationalists to show that such conversions are not genuine. Drawing on extensive ethnographic fieldwork, this chapter problematises the four narratives of conversion presented by Hindu nationalists, Christian missionaries, Adivasi converts and those Adivasis who remained in the Hindu fold.

Chapter 4, ‘Becoming Believers: Adivasi Women and the Pentecostal Church’, examines the socio-historical agency of converted women. Compared to men, a larger number of Adivasi women have converted to Christianity in Rajasthan, and this chapter examines the gendered politics of women’s conversion. The chapter shows that Pentecostal churches have made special efforts to tackle the everyday problems of women and are very sensitive to the socio-cultural development of Adivasi women. Through detailed fieldwork, the book shows that during the post-conversion period, Adivasi women have experienced individual/social improvement, dignity and greater autonomy in the church structure. The church has succeeded in addressing individual and social issues and specific needs among Adivasi families, which in turn has attracted more women to the path of Christ. In a tribal society, Sahoo argues, the egalitarian outlook of the church towards women would naturally attract more women to its fold. This is a strategic move, no doubt, which also shows that structural imbalances of gender inequality among India’s tribal sections have not been addressed effectively enough either by caste organisations or government institutions.

Chapter 5, ‘Seen as the Alien: Hindutva Politics and Anti-Christian Violence’, examines the growing evidence of violence against Christian converts in India. Based on the author’s fieldwork, it is shown that the vested interests of Hindu caste structures in maintaining the backwardness and contested inferior cultural identity of Adivasis motivates the progressive outlook of Pentecostal churches in order to attract more converts. This is not about rice, then, but about social position, respect and claims to a share in more equitable democratic development in India. This chapter also shows that the consolidation of Hindutva power in Rajasthan gives a sense of political superiority to anti-conversion groups, which leads to and justifies their anti-Christian violent stance.

Drawing on the extensive fieldwork, the book argues, however, that there is not really Hindu–Christian violence in India. Rather, the book suggests that there is anti-Christian violence in many parts of the country. Sahoo explains that upper castes view conversion to Christianity with suspicion and this leads to violence against converts and churches. He shows that the feudal Hindu elements’ unwillingness to extend a helping hand to Adivasis alienates tribals from the ‘Hindu fold’, which in turn creates anti-Christian sentiments among upper-caste Hindu sections. In other words, the book argues that Hindu right-wing groups, in employing various methods of violence to oppose conversions to Christianity, simply do not understand what actually causes conversions and how to tackle such social phenomena.

Reference:
Doss, M.C. (2018) ‘Indian Christians and the Making of Composite Culture in South India’, South Asia Research, 38(3): 247–67.
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Source: Mathoor, V. (2019) South Asia Research, 39, No.3, Nov, pp.85-86S: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0262728019874532?icid=int.sj-full-text.similar-articles.2

BOOK REVIEW: Pentecostalism and Politics of Conversion in India

Reviewed By: Arnab Roy Chowdhury (School of Sociology, Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russian Federation)

The author starts with an empirical analytical problem—from the late 1990s, the incidence of violence against Christians (converts) in India has increased—and tries to explain it. He undertakes an intriguing ethnographic immersion in the tribal-dominated areas of Rajasthan, where the Pentecostals have gained a strong foothold in converting the tribal and marginalized populations. His argument is: social, political, and historical contexts, contingencies, and exigencies—of competing projects of conversion between Christian missionaries and Hindu nationalists’­—lead to certain tensions and conflicts of interest that lead to violence. The author avoids determinisms, both material and cultural, and offers an argument that gives primacy to the political logic that is contingent upon emerging power.

Sahoo argues that the political field in Rajasthan is divided along a religious fissure between Hindu nationalists and Christian missionaries: they tussle intensely over the competing projects of conversion to Christianity and gharwapsi (or return home, when Christians are re-converted to the Hindu fold). This violence-laced field is produced by the complex dynamics between these groups and tribal converts, and the politicization of tribal identity and its translation into competitive electoral politics, within the developmental state of Rajasthan. The state has been ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since 1990 with intermittent phases of Indian National Congress (INC) rule, and it is dominated by upper-caste Rajput Hindutva ideology. Hindutva is the predominant form of religious nationalism in India. Social and political violence is an essential modality of the Hindutva politics.

Deploying Lata Mani’s notion, violence as a concept has been operationalized in broadly two ways. One is physical, interpreted as causing harm to life and property at large. The other is ‘intersubjective’ violence, which is about not following norms and rules of mutual respect and instilling a culture of fear through various gestures and exclusionary symbolisms (pp. 1–2). The author proffers an overall Weberian logic of holistic explanation that does not reduce the logic of social causality to either ‘the economic’ or ‘the cultural’, but understands it as something that is historical, contingent, embedded in power relations, and multi-causal in nature. But he criticizes the secularization thesis of Weber in the Indian postcolonial political context. Though India is a secular country as enshrined in its constitution, its politics has increasingly moved away from secular principles since Independence. Certain Christian denominations, such as AD 2000 and Joshua Project, proselytize aggressively. The Hindu right-wing majoritarian parties perceive such proselytization as a threat, a direct assault on the integrity and unity of the Hindu nation, and a new mode of hegemonic imperialism promoted through religion; and they increasingly perpetrate violence against Christians (pp. 3–4).

By tracking occurrences of violence against tribals in Rajasthan, Sahoo shows that it takes place mainly at the site of conversion activities and where the Pentecostal Church, aggressively promotes conversion. The Pentecostal Church is the central actor and Pentecostals the primary victim of violence. The Pentecostal practice entails a spectacle of charismatic, miraculous (Chamatkari), spirit-filled experiences, and particular styles of dramatic and awe-inspiring enactment performed by pastors that followers describe as ‘life-changing’ and unsurpassable in the mundane life. Conversion to Christianity (and the converts’ turf wars with right-wing nationalists) is the elephant in the room Indian academia do not dare to talk about due to rising influence of Hindutva politics. We must thank Sahoo for his boldness in taking up this issue and treating it with scholarly, academic nuance. The issue is controversial and complex, to say the least, because of several highly political binaries and polarized views. The notion of equality in Christianity is pitted against the caste hierarchy in Hinduism. The question of what kind of inducement led to conversion is often a prickly one, as are those about whether there is continuity between pre-conversion life and post-conversion life and whether conversion has brought about drastically new ranges of experience. Sahoo addresses these issues with some degree of intersubjective and cultural sensitivity.

Conversion creates an interesting religious-spiritual terrain and belief system of hybridity (p. 10), where the ‘hybrid’ belief system itself sometimes stakes the claim for creating a novel category of ‘religious’ discourses and practices. The corporeal violence and ‘manufactured fear’ that the author reads in the social context through his ethnographic immersion of ‘going native’ in the field is real, palpable, and chilling. This fear, as the author explains masterfully, is ‘manufactured’, and the detailed yet crisp narratives of interviewees, with little descriptive flourish, demonstrate this point beautifully.

Due to the history of fractured inter-community relations in Rajasthan, the minorities have developed a fear psychosis because of the political climate of ever-ascending religious rights. The subjective feeling of fear—the author says though embodied, is historically and socio-politically determined, and the collective memory of the community is haunted by the possibility that violence will recur (p. 16). This feeling prevents a normalization of relations between communities; and this polarization at the cognitive level is reflected through electoral political behaviour and social behaviour. Community boundaries are hardened through various exclusionary practices and symbolisms, proscriptions, and prescriptions.

This book is a holistic interpretation and analysis in the Weberian sense. A Marxian class analysis would have brought attention to class differences and inequalities within the tribals who have newly converted to Christianity and would have added another analytical layer to it. However, we cannot expect everything from a single book; nor does this issue diminish the quality of the book in anyway.

Through this book Sahoo speaks truth to power—the power of the state, ascendant right-wing populists in India, and the power of religious orthodoxies by presenting a nuanced and scholarly critique of their politics. This book is a very timely interjection given the intense socio-political churning India is currently going through due to consolidation of Hindutva politics after BJP has been re-elected to power with clear mandate in 2019. This book is a must-read for any one dealing with the political sociology of religious conversion in postcolonial India.

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@ Roy Chowdhury, Arnab (2019) Politics, Religion and Ideology, Vol.20, No.4, pp.520-521 (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21567689.2019.1699231)

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Pentecostalism and Politics of Conversion in India

Reviewed by: Nilay Saiya (Nanyang Technological University Singapore)

Despite its status as the world’s largest democracy, the ideals of religious liberty and equality set forth in its constitution, and Christianity’s long-standing presence in the country, India has the highest rates of social hostilities involving religion in the world, according to the Pew Research Center. Historically, religious violence in India has targeted all of India’s major faith communities. But in recent times, Christians have suffered from a disproportionate level of religious persecution, which has only intensified after the coming to power of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014. Today, India ranks among the world’s worst countries in its levels of anti-Christian hostility.

Given this context, Sarbeswar Sahoo’s timely book, Pentecostalism and Politics of Conversion in India, is a welcome addition to the existing literature on religious conflict in India. While a number of studies on religious conflict in India have focused on relations between Hindus and Muslims, Hindu-Christian relations have been largely absent from the literature, insofar as violence against Christians has been a relatively recent phenomenon. Among the many issues involved in inter-religious conflict in India, few are as charged as conversion. Sahoo’s focus on conversion to Pentecostalism among the Bhils of southern Rajasthan thus fills an important gap in the literature.

Sahoo sets out to answer three questions. First, why has India been experiencing increasing incidents of anti-Christian violence since the 1990s? Second, why are many among the Bhil tribe of Rajasthan increasingly converting to Pentecostalism? Third, what are the social and political implications of conversion, both within indigenous communities and for Indian secularism and religious freedom? To answer these questions, the author employs ethnographic fieldwork among the Bhils of southern Rajasthan.

Going beyond simplistic accounts of anti-Christian violence in India, Sahoo argues that “competing projects of conversion” coupled with the emergence of religiously based identity politics combine to produce anti-Christian violence (p. 127). Sahoo writes that there has been a shift in India’s religious climate beginning in the 1990s. The coming to power of the BJP has empowered Hindu nationalists throughout the country committed to the ideology of Hindutva (the predominant form of Hindu nationalism in India). These Hindu nationalists have felt increasingly threatened by the intensification of Christian missionary activity, especially among lower-caste Indians, seeing it as a form of neo-imperialism. They are greatly concerned that the number of Christians will continue to rise at the expense of Hindus and significantly affect the dynamics of electoral politics and India’s status as a Hindu nation. Violence against Christians has often been a response to conversion and the rapid rise of Christianity among marginalized groups.

The book is divided into six chapters. The introduction covers debates on conversion and describes the methodology used in the analysis. The second chapter details how Pentecostals have made inroads into the primarily Hindu state of Rajasthan. The author finds that Pentecostal missionaries have focused their efforts at the margins of society, rather than attempting appeal to caste Hindus. Chapter three examines in detail four narratives on religious conversion held by different “stakeholders”: those of Hindu nationalists, Christian missionaries, Adivasi converts to Christianity, and Hindu Adivasis. These overlapping narratives provide a holistic picture of views toward conversion. The fourth chapter focuses on tribal women, noting that women have been more likely than men to convert to Pentecostalism. The chapter features a number of intriguing stories of spiritual, marital, and material transformations in the lives of these women converts who have been empowered by the church. The fifth chapter takes on the contentious question of why violence against Christians has experienced a recent surge. Its explanation centers on “competing projects of conversion” on the parts of missionaries and Hindu nationalists for the souls of Bhil tribals. The final chapter summarizes the findings of the book and discusses their broader implications for Indian democracy, secularism, and freedom.

One of the great strengths of this book is that it debunks the widespread view that those of lower castes convert to Christianity because of material incentives offered by missionaries. Rather, the author convincingly shows that conversions are done out of free will and frequently result in genuine personal transformation. Conversion to Pentecostalism has resulted in socio-economic empowerment and liberation for those formerly trapped in the hierarchies of the caste system. The process of conversion is not a straightforward practice whereby missionaries seduce people with material benefits, but a highly complex one containing “multiple and contradictory discourses” (p. 86). Not only does the author demonstrate that missionaries do not provide direct material benefits to Bhil tribals, he convincingly argues that the allure of temporary material incentives, even if present, would not be enough for tribals to leave their religion to the extent that conversion is accompanied by serious negative repercussions, including the loss of traditional identity.

In conclusion, Sahoo has produced a first-rate and fascinating account of the politics of Christian conversion in India. He successfully unravels the complex interactions involved in the production of anti-Christian violence. The book is a model of sophisticated ethnographic fieldwork that, while covering a complex, multidimensional, and controversial issue, is written in a balanced and accessible style. Throughout, the author weaves interesting ethnographic narratives on conversion into his erudite analysis, making for pleasurable reading. In the end, Pentecostalism and Politics of Conversion in India is a landmark contribution to the comparative study of religion and the study of contemporary India.

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Source: Journal of Church and State, Volume 61, Issue 4, Autumn 2019, Pages 709–711, https://doi.org/10.1093/jcs/csz073

 

BOOK REVIEW: Pentecostalism and Politics of Conversion in India

Sarbeswar Sahoo, Pentecostalism and Politics of Conversion in India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018, pp. 205, $99.9 (hardback). ISBN: 978-1-108-41612-2.

Reviewed by: Ganesha Somayaji (Department of Sociology, Goa University, GOA)

Religious change and transformations in societies have been long-standing concerns of sociology ever since the emergence of the discipline. Religious conversion and subsequent sociocultural transformations have elicited scholarly attention in the sub-discipline of sociology of religious conversion especially during the second half of the twentieth century. However, as rightly observed in the ‘Foreword’ to the book by Professor Hans Joas, sociological attention to the global rise of Pentecostal Christianity is sparse. Such a gap in the context of Indian subcontinent which is experiencing high politicization of religion in the twenty-first century has been attempted to be filled, rather successfully, by the volume under review.

An attempt to review this book is challenging, for it has already been commended by four eminent sociologists of religion whose praises appear in the back cover of the book. The book contains an appreciative and critical foreword by Professor Hans Joas, Ernst Troeltsch Professor for the Sociology of Religion, Humboldt University of Berlin. Professor Hans Joas’ concluding comments in the foreword are important to grasp the substantive contribution of the book. He commented that ‘The author does not turn the one-sidedness of a materialist reductionism into a cultural reductionism… [The book] is exemplary in its achievements’. Professor Bryan S. Turner considers the book as ‘A major contribution to both the study of modern India and sociology of religion’. Political sociologically, when the nation-state is experiencing the re-implantation of Hindu-nationalistic politics in contemporary times, Sarbeshwar Sahoo’s political sociological examination of anti-Christian violence helps us to understand the nature and course of social processes relating to the spread of Pentecostalism in India.

The book is the result of Sarbeshwar Sahoo’s longitudinal engagement with the field for almost a decade since 2006–2007. His sensitivity to conversion and violence emerged during his initial examination of the interface between three ideologically and politically different non-governmental organizations in the tribal-dominated Udaipur district of Rajasthan and their engagement with developmental practices. In the course of his field investigations for doctoral studies in the tribal villages of Jhadol and Kotra tehsils, Sarbeshwar Sahoo had noticed the prevalence of violence against the Christian missionaries and the Christian tribal population. The survey of literature made him realize the absence of scholarly attention to Hindu–Christian violence in the Indian subcontinent at large. In the introduction to the book, conceptual and methodological underpinnings of the work are articulated. The study is the result of ethnographic field research.

The growth and implications of Pentecostalism in the Rajput Hindu(tva) ideology-dominated Rajasthan have been elaborately discussed in the second chapter. Drawing on ethnographic field data, the third chapter examines multiple narratives on religious conversion. The chapter points to the multidimensionality of conversion as a social process in tribal India. An intriguing issue of why many women are drawn towards Christianity has been examined in the fourth chapter. The chapter five highlights the reasons for violence against Christians. It recognizes economic backwardness and contested cultural identity of tribals and competing projects of conversion adopted by the missionaries and the responses of the Hindu nationalists as the sociopolitical reasons.

The book is useful for those who are interested in knowing the nature of and reasons for growing incidents of anti-Christian violence in India during the last two decades. It will be an insightful reading to those interested in Sociology of religious conversions and religion-related violence and suffering. It is written in a lucid language, and arguments have been presented cogently. I recommend it as a must reading for researchers on sociology of religious conversion. At the same time, it is of intellectual use to students of political sociology and sociology of religion in India.

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@ Published in Journal of Human Values, Vol.25, No.3, September 2019, pp.202-203.

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0971685819867079

BOOK REVIEW: Pentecostalism and Politics of Conversion in India

By: Vineetha Menon

Based on ethnographic fieldwork among the Bhils of Rajasthan from the year 2005 and especially from 2011 to 2015, Sarbeswar Sahoo examines Pentecostal conversion, Hindu nationalist politics and anti-Christian violence in the state of Rajasthan which had been dominated by the upper caste Rajput Hindu ideology. The author is sensitive to the fact that there are diversities and contradictions within Indian Christianity and in Pentecostalism and that there are tensions among Christians themselves. However, based largely on secondary data, the author observes that Hindu–Christian violence has escalated since BJP came into power in the 1990.

Hindu–Muslim violence has been studied by many scholars, but Hindu– Christian violence has not been subjected to any detailed analysis. Sahoo sees three reasons for this: (a) the not so long history of Hindu–Christian conflict; (b) the small and politically insignificant Christian population; and (c) the small and dispersed nature of Hindu–Christian violence. Sahoo organises his enquiry around three questions: (a) why, since the 1990s, is there an increase in anti- Christian violence? (b) Why are adivasis increasingly converting to Pentecostal Christianity? (c) What are the implications of religious conversion for religion within indigenous communities on the one hand and broader issues of secularism, religious freedom and democratic rights on the other? Tribal cultural identities are complex and politicised in relation to competitive electoral politics as well as to the “dynamics of the ‘development state’”, according to Sahoo. Ethnographic phenomenological approach is adopted by him to find answers to the three ques- tions. Although he does not explicitly acknowledge it, feminist methodologies have also been employed to some extent in the collection of women’s narratives. Enquiry into women’s conversion experience, experience of miracle healing, male–female interaction within family and church and changes in socio-economic well-being provide a gender dimension to the work. Sahoo observes that con- version to Pentecostalism led to reduced male abuse, alcohol addiction, domes- tic violence and poverty; the public domain of the church also offered dignity to women by turning them into ‘bible women’ who participate in social and cultural activities; liberation and empowerment both in domestic and public spheres increased for the converted Bhil women.

Why has there been more violence against Christians in tribal dominated areas? The answer is located in economic backwardness of tribals, the competing conversion projects of Christian missionaries and Hindu nationalists and the state support to Hindu nationalists.

How Pentecostalism was accepted as a tribal religion in Rajasthan? Why more tribal women than men convert to Pentecostalism? What is the grassroots level relationship between Hindu nationalism and Pentecostalism? Questions raised in the book are diverse and interesting.

Pentecostalism is the fastest growing denomination in Christianity. In India, Pentecostals have grown phenomenally, converting more lower castes and tribals. Since dalit Christians lose economic reservation, conversion is kept secret by many. Motivations for conversion have been explained differently by different scholars but by and large, collective cultural narratives are lacking. To rectify this, Sahoo identifies four social groups: Hindu nationalists, Christian missionaries, adivasi converts and Hindu adivasis and examines the four narratives, which he views as ‘four partially overlapping spheres of meaning’. This examination of the narratives leads him to reject the materialist-incentive hypothesis of conversion. Even as he argues this out persuasively, in examining the role of the state in the conflicts, he projects exactly this logic although the terms used are welfare and development rather than material incentive.

Rajasthan has no history of communal conflict but since the 1990s, the political landmark Sahoo considers significant, riots which are expression of religious conflicts have increased. It can be understood only within the socio-political context in which conversion is carried out, avers Sahoo. Focusing on the workings of ‘Hindutva politics’, he proceeds to argue that ‘violence against Christians has risen in several states of India that are governed by the BJP and/or its allies’ (p. 156) although his fieldwork was only in Rajasthan. Reliance on newspaper reports and secondary sources for such generalised statements make his otherwise sound scholarship somewhat problematic in places. Development projects and service delivery activities such as media are used by both Christian missionaries and Sangh Parivar, concedes the author. Nevertheless, he is specifically con- cerned with how the latter used these development and welfare activities to oppose Christian missionary activities and to politically mobilise tribals to vote for BJP; conversion being a threat to the electoral support base of BJP, the party empowered Sangh Parivar activists to resist conversion, and this often leads to violence. Therefore, the argument that the BJP-led state in Rajasthan was also partially responsible for the rising violence against Christian communities.

By and large, the author brings in several interesting dimensions of conversion and provides a good historical overview of the rise of Pentecostalism in India and how Pentecostalism came to be a ‘tribal religion’. The multiple meanings of tribal conversion are also explicated phenomenologically. The book will be of interest to many. Besides sociologists of religion and anthropologists, all those who are interested in tribes and tribal development in the state of Rajasthan, academics and researchers interested in the relationship between religion and politics, political economy, women’s studies and on the legal questions on secularism, proselytisa- tion, freedom of religion, etc. will also find the book interesting and worth reading.

Conflicting projects of conversion and re-conversion, active role of agents in these and accusations and counter-accusations have led to violence.

Sahoo distinguishes between legal conversion and conversion of lifestyle as two different things but all his respondents in the category of converts are believers but not legal converts. ‘Tension-producing situational factors’ lead them to conversion but legal conversion is not preferred for different reasons, like this will make them ineligible for government’s reservation, will prevent them from being able to buy lands from tribals, invite the displeasure of non-converted tribals and so on.

Vineetha Menon

Department of Anthropology, Kannur University, Thalassery Campus, Palayad, Tharasseri 670661, Kerala, India

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Source: Sociological Bulletin, Vol.68, No.2, pp.238-240

 

REVIEW: Pentecostalism and Politics of Conversion in India

Sarbeswar Sahoo, Pentecostalism and Politics of Conversion in India (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018). 205 pp. $99.00 hardback.

Daniel Alvarez

Pentecostal Theological Seminary, Cleveland, Tennessee

Sarbeswar Sahoo’s book is an important read for Pentecostals and for those interested with freedom of religion. Sahoo explains that he was motivated to write this book because of the complex interactions and agents that produce anti-Christian violence in India. Sarbeswar Sahoo is Hindu, yet he writes a sympathetic ethnographic account about Pentecostal Christianity in India. Sahoo also writes in a manner that readers outside India may understand and relate to India. Impressively, he draws from a multiplicity of scholarly resources from African-American, Latin American, and US Pentecostal perspectives.

In his book, Sahoo lays out the context of the province of Rajasthan, India. He participated in the everyday life of the Pentecostal church, such as Pentecostal worship, deliverance from demons, and the descent of the Holy Spirit (18). Sahoo describes the growth of Pentecostalism in India. It has remained relatively small, only 4% of the Indian population, yet because of the sheer quantity of people in India, the number of Pentecostals was reported to be 33.5 million people in the year 2000 (22). Pentecostals have focused on the poor and lower castes/tribes in India. Missionaries have organized social ministries and have used development and social ministries as a medium to spread the gospel (23). Sahoo’s analysis of Pentecostalism in many ways appeals to the tribal Hindu worldview. It includes Spirit worship, the charismata, exorcism, divine healing and miracles.

Sahoo’s discussion explains why there is opposition to conversion to Christianity in India. Conversion carries a lot of baggage because it is infused with ideas from colonization. Colonial governments in India encouraged conversions as a means for establishing Western supremacy. In many ways, colonialism politicized conversions.

Another reason conversion in India is seen with suspicion and met with violence has to do with the politics of the quota system in India. Hindu nationalists oppose conversion because of the number of non-Hindus will increase, affecting the electoral politics in India (43). Furthermore, many converts are “Crypto-Christians” (45), refusing to legally convert to Christianity or to declare this in the Census as it may affect the quota system of India (the Indian affirmative action system). On the other hand, Hindu tribals oppose the inclusion of Christians because benefits and entitlements are diluted with an increase in number of claimants. Hindu nationalists claim Christians get benefits from both the Indian government and Christian missionaries, which is unfair.

However, it is clear that Hindu nationalists and Pentecostals speak of conversion in two different planes and are not engaging each other in this discussion. For Indian nationalists conversion means leaving indigenous culture and adopting a foreign one. Hindus see religion is an inseparable part of culture. When someone converts, he or she changes not only religion and faith, but also his or her worldview. They assert that any religion that did not originate in India is foreign and the logical conclusion is that conversion is a sin. Christianity is coercive and conversions are forced through material inducement. Furthermore, conversion is an act of aggression against Hinduism. Consequently, Hindu Nationalists passed a controversial bill that calls for a two to five year punishment for the conversion of a person that is underage, a woman, a tribal person, or a Dalit.

In spite of Hindu opposition, Sahoo’s analysis of Pentecostalism is positive. This is evident through the testimonies and narratives of those who have converted to Christianity. Overall, tribal Christian converts develop a new identity which is confident, empowered and assertive (48). A Christian perspective begins with the total transformation of life. This takes place in the heart, character, and morals of a person. The converts are still from a particular ethnicity. The difference is that now they see Jesus as more powerful than the Hindu/tribal gods and goddesses (78).

Sahoo focuses on Adivasi women who convert to Pentecostalism. In spite of Hindu opposition, Sahoo thinks that Christian conversions empower the tribal Christian converts, especially women. Sahoo agrees with other sociological studies that conclude Pentecostalism offers an escape and empowerment to women whose experiences and opportunities are limited by race, gender and class. Furthermore, Pentecostalism improves the economic and emotional status of the family in the post-conversion period. Women participate in the activities of the church, making their religious experience stronger, and more meaningful. The higher moral life means converts are prohibited from committing crimes, practicing polygamy, wife beating, and drinking alcohol. For Sahoo, faith and spiritual transformation, caused largely by miracle/faith healings, have played an important role in influencing tribal women’s decision to convert (89). There is a sense that sanctification plays an important part of life of new converts in India. Sahoo could become more familiar with Wesleyan ideas of sanctification and how this influences the Pentecostal notion of holiness in this life.

It is evident throughout this book that Pentecostalism provides a theology and a practice of healing. In his analysis of women converts, many of them attest of healing from diseases to which they could find no cure. Many realized they did not have to visit a shaman or pay fees for their services. In many cases healing was also accompanied by the miraculous, or signs and wonders. In some cases, individuals experiencing healing passed strange liquids or vomited. In some ways healing also appears to be closely related to exorcism. Sahoo describes how many times healing is attributed to individuals being set free from evil spirits. Rather than deny that evil spirits exist, Sahoo says that Pentecostals actively engage in exorcism, affirming the power of the Holy Spirit over all other spirits.

Sahoo’s book is an important affirmation of Pentecostals in non-Western contexts, especially those facing intolerance and persecution. Pentecostalism is alive and well among the poor masses because it offers the reconstruction of life at the most basic level. Sahoo has risked much in writing and his contribution serves to understand Pentecostalism and its contextualization in India. Sahoo’s book may also serve Pentecostals in the Western world get in touch with some of the most important dimensions of their theology and practice that they seem to have left behind.

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@ Daniel Alvarez (2019) Pneuma, Vol.41, No.2, pp.291-293

https://brill.com/view/journals/pneu/41/2/article-p291_7.xml?lang=en